AUGUSTA, Maine — President Obama has asked Congress for the power to veto some items in budget legislation without vetoing the entire bill, an idea that has surfaced in federal government in the past.
But members of Maine’s congressional delegation are not enthusiastic about the proposal.
“I don’t like being held up with big bills that have stuff in them that are wasteful but I’ve got to sign because it’s a defense authorization bill and I’ve got to make sure that our troops are getting the funding that they need,” the president said earlier this year in support of a line item veto.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she sympathizes with the president’s stated goal to reduce wasteful spending, but is wary of his modified line item veto proposal.
“We have to do all we can to try and control spending, and this is one way to do it,” she said, “but I am not sure if his proposal is constitutional.”
When the GOP controlled Congress in 1996, they adopted a line item veto that President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, used to cut more than $2 billion from spending bills. It was ruled unconstitutional in 1998.
The current proposal has a similar goal. Under the draft proposal, a president would have 45 days to review appropriations bills for wasteful spending and send a list of items to Congress that he considers wasteful. Congress would then have 25 days to approve the list, or reject it without changes.
“I think it will give better oversight with respect to the overall process of appropriations given the enormity of the debt,” Snowe said. “If it is, as the president believes, a constitutional approach.”
But 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said he does not like the proposal and said it is overreaching. He said it is up to Congress to stop wasteful spending and the president’s proposal would tip the balance of power between Congress and the president.
“It will put a lot more authority into the hands of a president,” he said. “I want Congress to do its job and reign in spending.”
Michaud said he fears giving a president too much leverage in the political process. He said the proposal could lead to abuses of a system aimed at cutting spending.
“If there is too much spending, [and] the president doesn’t like it, then he has the option of vetoing the entire bill, versus cherry picking certain items because he may not care for that member of Congress,” Michaud said.
First District Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, agrees that the proposal shifts the balance of power too far to the executive branch of government and opposes the legislation.
“Our Constitution sets up a balance of power,” she said, “Sometimes we like the executive branch, sometimes we like Congress. You have to have that balance. I think the president is in some ways overstepping what is a reasonable amount of power for the executive branch.”
But, Pingree said, she understands the president’s motive of seeking to reduce spending and she agrees with that goal but not his proposal.
“We kind of know what we need to do,” she said. “It just requires political will. A lot of the deficit comes from the past, from wars that have not been paid for.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the president and Congress need to work together to hold spending in line. She said the president’s proposal would fundamentally change the balance of power and she cannot support such a shift. She said the president should propose a balanced budget before worrying about the appropriations process.
“The president has yet to advance a comprehensive plan for dealing with spending,” she said. “I am hopeful that the commission he has established will come up with such a plan.”
Collins said the president’s commission set up to address the deficit can only recommend a solution, while a measure she supported would have set up a panel that had the authority to submit a package of spending cuts that Congress would have to vote up or down without changes.
“We have to reduce spending,” she said, “We cannot continue to spend beyond our means. We just can’t.”
The Obama proposal has some support in Congress with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introducing it in the Senate and House Budget Committee chairman Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., introducing the measure in the House.
While there have been one set of hearings, the measure has not been reported to the floor in either the House or Senate.